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  • John Constable
    Jun 11, 1776 - Mar 31, 1837
  • Dedham Vale, With a View to Langham Church from the Fields - John Constable RA was an English landscape painter in the Romantic tradition. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for revolutionising the genre of landscape painting with his pictures of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home – now known as "Constable Country" – which he invested with an intensity of affection. "I should paint my own places best", he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, "painting is but another word for feeling".
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Dedham Vale, With a View to Langham Church from the Fields
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  • Dedham Vale, With a View to Langham Church from the Fields

  • John Constable
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  • Dedham Vale, With a View to Langham Church from the Fields just East of Vale Farm, East Bergholt

    Painted circa 1814-15, this beautiful plein air oil sketch captures the dramatic effects of a rain squall passing through Dedham Vale, in Suffolk. The scene captures the view over rolling pasture and cornfields from East Bergholt, the village where Constable was born, looking towards Langham in the Stour Valley, with a distant view of the church spire just visible on the skyline. It is a view that the artist knew intimately, and one which was dear to his heart. Indeed the viewpoint is taken only a short distance from the artist’s studio, and scenes of the landscape around Dedham Vale would be the inspiration for many of his greatest works.

    The painting is an important example of Constable’s early experiments with working outside of the confines and strictures of the studio, and his early attempts at capturing the transient effects and ephemeral power of nature. In the autumn of 1814, following a summer painting and sketching in Suffolk, Constable returned to his house at Charlotte Street in London, where he wrote to his friend John Dunthorne of his difficulties in finishing summer landscapes whilst 'it is bleak and looks as if there would be a shower of sleet'.1 He decided that in future he would attempt to finish a small oil sketch on the spot for every landscape painting he intended to make. It is from this period that small oil sketches begin to appear regularly as part of his output, fine examples of which include his small sketch of The Stour Valley and Dedham Village (Leeds City Art Galleries), also painted in 1814 and believed to be a study for a finished work of the same title which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

    The following year, as the autumn of 1815 drew to a close, Constable made the unusual decision to remain in East Bergholt and spend the winter there, rather than relocating to London to attend the academy, as had previously been his habit. With the exception of short visits to London in November 1815, and January 1816, he remained there until the following March, working in his studio from sketches made over the summer. In the decades that followed his working practise would radically change, turning ever closer to nature, and eschewing the artifice of derivative landscape that was the convention of academic theory. The presence of a single spot of chrome yellow in the lower right of the picture suggests that the painting was still in Constable’s studio whilst he was working on The Wheatfield (Private Collection), circa 1815-16, when he began using this new and distinctive pigment.

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Prev Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood From the Grounds of Old Hall, East Bergholt Dedham Vale: Morning Next
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Other paintings by John Constable:

Dedham Vale
Dedham Vale
Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood From the Grounds of Old Hall, East Bergholt
Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood From the Grounds of Old Hall, East Bergholt
Dedham Vale: Morning
Dedham Vale: Morning
Die Valley Farm
Die Valley Farm
John ConstableJohn Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) was born in East Bergholt, a village on the River Stour in Suffolk, to Golding and Ann Constable. His father was a wealthy corn merchant, owner of Flatford Mill in East Bergholt and, later, Dedham Mill. Golding Constable also owned his own small ship, The Telegraph, which he moored at Mistley on the Stour estuary and used to transport corn to London. Although Constable was his parents' second son, his older brother was mentally handicapped and so John was expected to succeed his father in the business, and after a brief period at a boarding school in Lavenham, he was enrolled in a day school in Dedham. Constable worked in the corn business after leaving school, but his younger brother Abram eventually took over the running of the mills.

In his youth, Constable embarked on amateur sketching trips in the surrounding Suffolk countryside that was to become the subject of a large proportion of his art. These scenes, in his own words, "made me a painter, and I am grateful"; "the sound of water escaping from mill dams etc., willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts, and brickwork, I love such things." He was introduced to George Beaumont, a collector, who showed him his prized Hagar and the Angel by Claude Lorrain, which inspired Constable. Later, while visiting relatives in Middlesex, he was introduced to the professional artist John Thomas Smith, who advised him on painting but also urged him to remain in his father's business rather than take up art professionally.

In 1799, Constable persuaded his father to let him pursue art, and Golding even granted him a small allowance. Entering the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer, he attended life classes and anatomical dissections as well as studying and copying Old Masters. Among works that particularly inspired him during this period were paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Claude Lorrain, Peter Paul Rubens, Annibale Carracci and Jacob van Ruisdael. He also read widely among poetry and sermons, and later proved a notably articulate artist. By 1803, he was exhibiting paintings at the Royal Academy.

In 1802 he refused the position of drawing master at Great Marlow Military College, a move which Benjamin West (then master of the RA) counselled would mean the end of his career. In that year, Constable wrote a letter to John Dunthorne in which he spelled out his determination to become a professional landscape painter:
"For the last two years I have been running after pictures, and seeking the truth at second hand. I have not endeavoured to represent nature with the same elevation of mind with which I set out, but have rather tried to make my performances look like the work of other men... There is room enough for a natural painter. The great vice of the present day is bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth."

His early style has many of the qualities associated with his mature work, including a freshness of light, colour and touch, and reveals the compositional influence of the Old Masters he had studied, notably of Claude Lorrain. Constable's usual subjects, scenes of ordinary daily life, were unfashionable in an age that looked for more romantic visions of wild landscapes and ruins. He did, however, make occasional trips further afield. For example, in 1803 he spent almost a month aboard the East Indiaman ship Coutts as it visited south-east coastal ports, and in 1806 he undertook a two-month tour of the Lake District. But he told his friend and biographer Charles Leslie that the solitude of the mountains oppressed his spirits; Leslie went on to write:
"His nature was peculiarly social and could not feel satisfied with scenery, however grand in itself, that did not abound in human associations. He required villages, churches, farmhouses and cottages."